If there has been a consistent theme with the UNLV football program, it’s that the Rebels always seem to make things as difficult as they possibly can.
That was evident on Saturday, when they faced off against Arkansas State in a game that could end up weighing heavily on UNLV’s bowl chances. Tragically true to form, the Rebels put themselves in a hole early and then continued to make things exponential harder on themselves over the course of a 43-17 drubbing that leaves the team with some serious questions going forward.
On the third play of the game, junior quarterback Armani Rogers threw an interception that was subsequently returned 35 yards for a touchdown. It was all uphill from there.
After the pick-six, the Rebels team did themselves no favors by continuing to opt for a pass-happy game plan that saw Rogers launch 14 passes in the first half (against 16 UNLV rushing attempts).
On defense, the Rebels disadvantaged themselves by playing a conservative three-man front that allowed Arkansas State quarterback Logan Bonner to scan the pocket comfortably while looking for holes in the UNLV secondary. He ended up passing for 284 yards and two touchdowns.
It all added up to disaster in a game that UNLV really had to win. Now sitting at 1-1, life is about the get even tougher for the Rebels, who enter the most treacherous portion of the schedule. Four of the next five games are on the road, including two contests against Power 5 opponents; the lone home game during that stretch is against No. 25 Boise State.
With that gauntlet looming, UNLV coach Tony Sanchez conceded it’s time to reconsider everything.
Including the quarterback.
Rogers finished 8-of-23 for 42 yards, with zero touchdowns and the one costly interception. He was pulled for UNLV’s final drive, which saw redshirt freshman Kenyon Oblad step in and complete 3-of-3 passes for 70 yards, including a perfectly-thrown 56-yard touchdown to Randal Grimes.
In his postgame press conference, Sanchez threw the door wide open for Oblad to push for the quarterback job.
“We’ve got to challenge some of these young guys to fight some of these older guys for jobs” Sanchez said. “We’ve got to get going in the passing game and at the quarterback spot. If there’s got to be a little bit of a battle there, then I think we’re going to talk about that.”
Though the Rebels ran the ball effectively enough—junior running back Charles Williams gained 168 yards on 19 carries—Sanchez said the lack of production through the air made the offense too one-dimensional.
“We’ve got to find some rhythm in the passing game,” Sanchez said. “We can’t just rely on handing the ball off over and over and over. The thing that really frustrates me is the accuracy…Too many balls below the guys’ knees, in the dirt. It seems like we’re always going down for them.”
Rogers is 18-of-36 on the season for 176 yards and no touchdowns. Oblad is 10-of-14 for 129 yards and one touchdown.
Sanchez said he will convene with his coaching staff this week and discuss the possibility of giving Oblad an opportunity to play outside of garbage time.
“We’re going to sit down tomorrow and we’re really going to jump in and talk about a bunch of different things that we need to do to open up this offense.”